Could Jeff Sessions’ Action on Cole Memo Impact 2018 Midterm Elections?

shutterstock 601936106
shutterstock 601936106

Will the unpopular move by Jeff Sessions to rescind the Cole Memo usher in a blue wave next November?

Yesterday’s action by Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been met with bi-partisan criticism. In a politically charged climate where a majority of Americans are unhappy with how the federal government is handling tax reform, DACA, and healthcare, a return to the failed policies of the War on Drugs may not help the Trump administration and the GOP’s prospects in 2018.

Polls show that approximately 60 percent of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana while close to 90 percent support medical marijuana. It is difficult to find a stronger consensus issue in the United States. Legal marijuana sales are creating new tax revenues in several states including Colorado and Nevada. Raising taxes is rarely a popular move so taxes on legal marijuana actually creates a unique opportunity. You can effectively raise taxes and political approval at the same time. It could be a hard sell to convince state lawmakers that they need to consider forgoing these new revenues. 


So is there a sleeping silent majority waiting to be “woke?” With Sessions moving to eliminate one of the only federal protections for the marijuana industry, patients, and adult use customers, will this majority take to the polls in November?

Some are expecting a surge in youth voting in the upcoming midterm elections. This was previously predicted by President Trump’s low popularity numbers among Millenials. After one year in office, only 22 percent of Millenials approve of how Trump is handling his job as president.

Millenials are considered to be an elusive group when it comes to voter turnout. But given such animosity toward Trump and now the perceived attack on legal marijuana, could this present real trouble for the president and the Republican party?

Some Republicans seem aware that Sessions’ action could be problematic for the party.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who already said he would move to block all Trump appointed judicial nominees until the Sessions’ decision is reversed, has not been shy about challenging the White House on the Cole Memo.

“Why is Donald Trump thinking differently than what he promised the people of Colorado in 2016?” Gardner said in a speech Thursday on the Senate floor, citing Trump’s reassurance that marijuana was a “state’s rights” issue while campaigning. There are “thousands of jobs at risk, millions of dollars in revenue, and certainly the question of constitutional states rights — very much at the core of this discussion.”

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) echoed Gardner’s sentiments.

“The announcement by the Department of Justice is a drastic departure from the Attorney General’s previous commitment to Senator Cory Gardner during the confirmation process that he would uphold the Obama Administration’s treatment of marijuana enforcement and President Trump’s comments that he would leave it to the states,” Tipton told reporters.

“Furthermore it creates even greater confusion and uncertainty by leaving enforcement decisions up to federal prosecutors. The Department of Justice should provide guidance on enforcement of marijuana for states that have voted to legalize it. The people of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in the state, and I am committed to defending the will of Coloradans,” Tipton continued.

Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has tried to keep the feds out of state marijuana laws for years, was not pleased with Sessions.

“This is a freedom issue,” Rohrabacher said Thursday according to Bloomberg Politics. “I think Jeff Sessions has forgotten about the Constitution and the 10th Amendment.”

The 10th Amendment states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

“By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy,” Rohrabacher continued.

The move by Sessions is likely to have political legs and continue to be a hot-button issue leading into the 2018 election season. Democrats already seem ready to leverage the issue.

“Parents should be able to give their sick kids the medicine they need without having to fear that they will be prosecuted,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a statement. “Veterans should be able to come home from combat and use the medicine they need without having to fear they will be prosecuted. This is about public health, and it’s about reforming our broken criminal justice system that throws too many minorities in prison for completely nonviolent offenses.”

Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) also voiced his opposition to Sessions’ decision.

“History has shown that our deeply broken drug laws disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color and cost us billions annually in enforcement, incarceration, and wasted human potential, without making us any safer,” said Booker. “This unjust, backwards decision is wrong for America, and will prove to be on the wrong side of history.”

Will other Republicans break ranks with the Trump Administration over marijuana policy? Or will they risk digging in and possibly losing control over both chambers of Congress?